Phillips reflects on career, time with Raiders

Former Prince Albert Raider and NHL defenceman Chris Phillips, right, participates in a hot stove session with comedian Kelly Taylor on March 2, 2018 at the Ches Leach Lounge in Prince Albert. -- Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

Ahead of their Saturday night game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Prince Albert Raiders inducted two of their own into the team’s Wall of Honour.

The Western Hockey League club inducted former defenceman Chris Phillips and long-time team volunteer Roger Mayert onto its wall.

Phillips played with the Raiders for one and a half seasons, before the club traded him to Lethbridge. That same year he helped guide the Hurricanes to a berth in the final game of the Memorial Cup. A year prior, the NHL’s Ottawa Senators drafted him first overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.

Phillips spent the duration of his 17-year career with the Senators.

On Friday night at the Ches Leach Lounge, Phillips joined his high school classmate and comedian Kelly Taylor for a hot-stove session while the Raiders played to a 5-4 win in Swift Current.

Prior to Saturday night’s ceremonial puck drop with Phillips and Mayert at the Art Hauser Centre, the former Raiders defenceman spoke with local media about his induction and his hockey career.

Daily Herald: Where are your mood and emotions at? You’re about to be inducted to the Wall of Honour as your two former junior teams face off.

Chris Phillips: I’m really excited about it. Obviously when I got the call that they were gonna recognize me with that, I was very honoured. I loved my time playing here for the Raiders in Prince Albert.

It was a great experience; obviously a stepping stone for what turned out to be a long NHL career, and it’s been a long time since I came back.

900 CKBI: What did your time here mean to you?

CP: It was a lot.

Obviously for anyone that moves on, it’s s stepping stone to getting to the NHL.

The city itself, making me feel comfortable. For young guys, when they’re leaving home, a brand new experience in a new city without your family, that’s what you lean on. And there’s lots of situations where if it’s not comfortable, or it doesn’t feel good, that reflects in the paly on the ice and often is a big reason why some guys don’t get to that next level.

So not having that is a factor for me in being able to feel good and feel comfortable; it just made my experience so much better.

DH: The way the hockey community, especially the longer you stay in it, resembles a tight-knit family; how does P.A. factor into that for you and your career?

CP: Well you’re exactly right.

Coming back here and reminiscing; Curtis Hunt’s the (Raiders) general manger; He was my coach a few years ago in Ottawa. Peter Anholt is here with Lethbridge tonight, who has roots in P.A.

The more you talk to people, you realize how small the hockey community is. If you don’t know somebody, you’re one degree separated from knowing them. Getting into those conversations and talking about guys that I played with when I was here and where they are now; it’s added to that whole experience of coming back here.

900 CKBI: What about the senators made you want to stay in Ottawa?

CP: In some respect, it’s very similar to what I talked about coming into Prince Albert: Going away to Ottawa again, it’s a great hockey city where they embrace the hockey players that come in.

I married my wife – a local girl from Ottawa, and we have kids of our own now. It couldn’t be a better place to raise a family.

There’s a thousand different ways a hockey career can go; and I feel very blessed the way mine got carved out.

DH: Comparing the Memorial Cup in Hull, Que., and then the Stanley Cup against Anaheim, what about both those experiences stands out for you the most; and do you find similarities between the two?

CP: That’s the very best at that point in your career.

When you’re a junior player, it’s all about the Memorial Cup. And for us being able to get right to the final game, obviously it’s disappointing when you don’t win that, but after you leave there … having time really to look back and reflect on that, all those experiences; we just had so much fun.

It was a great group of guys. We had fun away from the rink and I think that just added to how much fun we had playing together and really was a key to our success and any team’s success.

Getting to the Stanley Cup final, same thing.

To make it all the way to the finals … I talked about how many great teams I was on; winning President’s trophies, and we were right at the top of the league, and we never made it to the finals. It shows how hard it really is.

It took us 10 years to get there and we never made it again.

As hard as it was to not win, looking back again, I can really appreciate how much we went through all season long – the three playoff rounds before that to get there. Although we fell short, it’s something I’m extremely proud of.